Clifton Duncan

I was 19, it was the summer between my sophomore and junior year of college, and I'd secured my first-ever paid theatre gig: an internship at the (unfortunately now defunct) Georgia Shakespeare Festival in Atlanta. I made sure to enroll in the EMC program, as all I wanted to do back then was to get my card, so that I could feel like a “real” actor. I also made sure to confine my interest in prospective theaters to ONLY those that offered EMC points.

It took me nearly five years, including a couple years of couch-crashing and sleeping in my car down in Washington, DC, then two tough years at NYU's Graduate Acting MFA Program. Then I had one crazy summer where I booked back-to-back gigs, and I went directly from doing a play at the Hangar Theatre in Ithaca to working with the Chautauqua Theatre Company. 

By the time I left Chautauqua, going directly into my final rigorous year at NYU (with no downtime!), I had amassed enough points (54, of the required 50) to get my card. It was perfect, because I'd set out to secure my union membership before leaving grad school, and that is exactly what I accomplished.

My career has always been, and continues to be, the result of putting in the work and then deriving satisfaction and gratification from the return on that time and energy investment. I worked to earn my membership, and thus it has more meaning for me. This pattern of delayed gratification has proven to be a staple of my career, and I'm glad I learned the lesson early on. As such I tell younger people to simply do the work. If you want it, and you've got the chops, it can happen.

Originally published in Equity News, Winter 2018.